Monday, 25 July 2011

08:55 – Hmmm. Moody’s has downgraded Greek debt to Ca, which is almost-but-not-quite default. Moody’s notes that the likelihood they’ll further reduce Greece to a C rating, or actual default, is “virtually 100%”. Meanwhile, Spanish bond yields–or was it Italian bond yields?–just climbed past 6%, which is catastrophic.

The purpose of the crisis summit, of course, was not to save Greece, which cannot be saved, but to prevent spread of the “contagion” to Spain and Italy. I may have been optimistic in estimating that they’d delayed the crash by 90 days. It may be more like 30 days. Historically, July and August are when these things tend to happen, and we may have an interesting time of it next month.

Heads-down work on the biology book this week, with a bit of lab work to confirm some of the stuff in the lab sessions. As I write the lab sessions, I have to constantly keep in mind the chemicals needed, and whether it’s practical to include those chemicals in the kits. It’s essential that the kits be legal to ship under the Small Quantity Exemption, but staying within the SQE regulations isn’t as simple as it might seem.

For example, the SQE regulations permit shipping up to one fluid ounce, which they define as 30 mL, of most hazardous chemicals, including nasty stuff like concentrated sulfuric acid. The problem is that the limit isn’t per-container but per shipping package. So, for example, if I include two 15 mL bottles of two biostains that are in a solution of 70% isopropanol, that’s my limit on isopropanol for that package. (It doesn’t matter what the percentage is; I could use 50% isopropanol, and the limit is still 30 mL per package.)

Ah, but in that case I haven’t used any of my ethanol allocation, so I could also include two 15 mL bottles of ethanol-based solutions in the same package, and, for that matter, two more 15 mL bottles of methanol-based solutions and two more 15 mL bottles of butanol-based solutions, because methanol, ethanol, propanol, and butanol all have different UN (hazardous chemical) numbers. For some stains and reagents, the type of alcohol used doesn’t matter much or at all. For others, it matters a lot. For example, some stains are readily soluble in methanol but not propanol, and vice versa. Depending on how things work out, I may end up going to some ridiculous extremes. For example, I might supply a 10 mL of a reagent in a 15 mL bottle, using 99% isopropanol, which would cost me only 10 mL of my 30 mL isopropanol allocation–and direct the reader to add 5 mL of distilled water to that bottle. Geez.

I did make a fortuitous discovery yesterday. The 15 mL PE dropper bottles are a slip fit in the 50 mL PP centrifuge tubes, several of which will be included in the biology kits as specimen containers and for temporary storage of various solutions. The conical caps of the dropper bottles even fit neatly into the conical bottoms of the centrifuge tubes. That makes the centrifuge tubes ideal secondary containers for 15 mL dropper bottles that contain really nasty stuff. Adding a couple of cotton balls or some paper towels will both cushion the dropper bottle and serve as an absorbent if the bottle leaks.

12:50 – I just noticed that the European Central Bank has stopped buying sovereign bonds. Since the May 2010 bailout, the ECB has been backstopping Greek debt. The ECB is currently estimated to hold something like €45 billion of essentially worthless Greek debt on its balance sheet, and it has obviously decided not to add to that total. That leaves the EFSF (European bailout fund), which has only €440 billion in its coffers, as the bailout lender of last resort. That’s marginally sufficient to cover expected upcoming bailouts for Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, but there’s no way the EFSF will be able to do a thing to help Spain and particularly Italy when they show up begging for bailouts. Speculation leading up to the crisis summit last week was that the ESFS reserves would be at least doubled if not tripled. Instead, they were left as is. The result is that traders and analysts are holding their collective breath, because if (when) Spain or Italy collapses there’ll be nothing left in the till to bail them out with.